Houses of Austin canons: The priory of St Mary, Huntingdon

Pages 393-395

A History of the County of Huntingdon: Volume 1. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1926.

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There seems little reason to doubt that the priory of St. Mary, Huntingdon, was founded about the beginning of the 12th century by Eustace de Lovetot, (fn. 1) whose career as sheriff of the county is so strikingly censured in the Domesday Survey. It may be that he hoped, like others of his time, to atone for some of his misdeeds, or to lessen the difficulties of his heirs, by devoting a portion of his ill-gotten gains to the Church. At any rate he left the priory well endowed, and William de Lovetot, who succeeded him, had the lands secured by royal charters and papal bulls. (fn. 2) Maud, the queen of Henry I, and the Scottish earls of Huntingdon were also benefactors of the priory. (fn. 3)

The direct line of the house of Lovetot came to an end with the 12th century, and the patronage of Huntingdon priory passed through the eldest of the three co-heiresses into the family of Amundeville. (fn. 4) By the beginning of the 16th century it was in the hands of the Duke of Buckingham, and through his attainder fell to the Crown. (fn. 5)

The large number of churches appropriated to the priory, with its other endowments, made it a house of some importance in the town of Huntingdon. Like other religious foundations, it had its share of lawsuits; (fn. 6) and there was a perpetually recurrent difficulty with the inhabitants of the town of Hartford as to the repair of the bridge over the Ouse: the final concord made in 1486 closed a long series of disputes. (fn. 7)

In the 14th century the prior was considerably in debt: (fn. 8) it was a hard time for all religious houses. In 1380 the appropriation of Southoe church was petitioned for on the ground that the monastery was on the highway, daily resorted to by multitudes of guests, and had been much damaged by tempests. (fn. 9) It had suffered loss also by the Great Pestilence, when the prior died (fn. 10) and doubtless some of his canons with him.

The earliest reported visitation of the priory was that of Bishop Fleming in 1420. (fn. 11) At this time regulations were issued for the better administration of the revenues of the house and for the repair of the buildings. There had been some scandal caused by the too easy admission of the women who served as laundresses to the priory. They were in future not to come farther than the outer door, and then to be received by secular servants, not by the canons. The roof of the infirmary chapel was to be repaired and the prior was to have 100s. a year for the adornment of his chamber. The number of canons, which had been originally sixteen, had diminished by this time.

Bishop Grey in 1435 reminded the canons of these injunctions, which had apparently been disregarded. He recalled to them their duty of reciting the canonical hours, and keeping silence. If these duties, the foundation of all religious life, were well attended to, there would be no further trouble. The jewels of the house were not to be pledged to meet the debts of the house; hunting dogs were not to be kept. The house of John Clerk near the priory was an unsafe place to visit; his wife was not above suspicion. (fn. 12)

The visitation of Bishop Alnwick in 1440 brought more scandals to light. The prior had been setting a very bad example to his subjects; he was found guilty of unchaste living, with nine different women, one of them the wife of the above-mentioned John Clerk; another of the canons had sinned in a similar way. The buildings were out of repair, and the moveable goods of the house had been alienated without consultation of the chapter. (fn. 13)

Probably the appointment of a new prior soon after this brought some improvement. The accounts of the priory at the opening of the 16th century were evidently kept with care, and show no unsatisfactory signs. The churches of the monastery, its other buildings, bridges and farms were all being repaired at considerable expense. The bishop had made a recent visitation, and so had the visitor appointed by the general chapter of the order. The bishop had expected a more expensive entertainment than 'the visitor of our religion': the former had cost the canons in bread, wine and good ale as much as £17 12s.; the latter only the modest sum of 4s. 2d. for 'malvesey and sugre.' (fn. 14) This was in the time of prior Thomas Herford, who died 1518. His successors were not so capable, for at the resignation of William Gidding in 1532, Bishop Longland wrote to Cromwell that the house was left almost 'as poor as Job' by his negligence. (fn. 15) The convent had referred the election to the bishop, with whom they were apparently on good terms. (fn. 16)

The clear revenue of the priory was under £200, so that it would have been suppressed under the first Act if the canons had not loved their habit well enough to pay a heavy fine for license to continue. This cost them £133 6s. 8d., and was granted on 17 August 1536. (fn. 17) It was, however, only a respite. The surrender had to be made finally on 11 July 1538. (fn. 18) There had been twelve canons besides the prior in 1534, (fn. 19) but now there were only eight; or perhaps the others received no pension. The prior's annuity was £26 13s. 4d.; the eight canons received from £5 6s. 8d. to £4. (fn. 20) In 1554 the prior and four of the canons were still alive. (fn. 21)

The Red Book of the Exchequer states that the canons of Huntingdon had one and a half knights' fees under Nigel de Lovetot before the death of Henry I. (fn. 22) Henry III confirmed to the canons the original endowment with the churches of St. Mary, St. Botulf, St. Bennet, St. Martin, St. John, St. Edmund, and All Saints. (fn. 23) In 1291 the revenue of the prior in spirituals and temporals was given as £69 13s. 10d.; (fn. 24) in 1535 as £197 13s. 8¼d., including the rectories of Hartford, Great Gidding, Stukeley, Hemingford Grey, Southoe, Southwick, Evenley, and Winwick. (fn. 25) The first account of the Crown Bailiff gave a total of £237 13s. 9d., including the manor of Papworth Agnes in Cambridgeshire. (fn. 26)

Priors of Huntingdon

Robert, (fn. 27) 1147.
William. (fn. 28)
John, (fn. 29) resigned 1225.
Roger Frisby, (fn. 30) elected 1225.
Richard, (fn. 31) occurs 1250.
John, (fn. 32) resigned 1302.
Walter de Evenley, (fn. 33) elected 1302, died 1308.
Robert de Stamford, (fn. 34) elected 1308, died 1322.
Reynold de Bluntisham, (fn. 35) elected 1322, died 1349.
John de Weston, (fn. 36) elected 1349.
Thomas Sheningdon, (fn. 37) died 1375.
Henry Rokesden, (fn. 38) elected 1375, died 1404.
John Hemingford, (fn. 39) elected 1404.
John Madingley, (fn. 40) elected 1420, occurs till 1440.
Ivo, (fn. 41) occurs 1461.
John Bury, (fn. 42) confirmed 1466.
John Cokfield, (fn. 43) occurs 1486.
Thomas Fort, (fn. 44) elected 1496, resigned 1503.
Gregory Norwich, (fn. 45) elected 1503.
Nicholas Smith, (fn. 46) resigned 1510.
Thomas Herford, (fn. 47) died 1518.
Robert Broughton, (fn. 48). elected 1518, died 1521.
William Gidding or Williams, (fn. 49) resigned 1532.
Hugh Oliver or Whit wick, (fn. 50) last prior, elected 1532.

A circular seal of the 14th century (fn. 51) showing the Coronation of the Virgin in a cusped quatrefoil enclosed in a circle. Above is the head of Christ with A and O and a crescent and star. On either side is a four-winged angel and below is a representation of the Resurrection of the Dead. Legend:


On the reverse is a circular seal showing the priory church with central spire under which, below a trefoiled arch, is the seated figure of St. Augustine with his right hand in benediction and his left holding a crozier. In a panel on the left is the head of St. Peter, adjoining which to the left are two keys, his emblem, and in a panel on the right is the head of St. Paul with his emblem, a sword. Below these panels are two canons praying, and under the central figure are heads in an arcade. Above the roof of the church are the letters CLEV, v, referring to Pope Clement V [1305-14]. Legend:

CANPICIS: LEGES: PS: AVGVS . . . . . . . . DE . . . . . . . . . . . . H'PIA: DONA TUIS


  • 1. The allusion in Edgar's charter to Thorney (Dugdale, Mon. Angl. II, 599) to the monasteriolum S. Mariae extra oppidum does not give sufficient evidence for placing the foundation earlier, even if the charter be genuine. Monasteriolum at that period may only perhaps mean a good-sized church (see note in V.C.H. Bucks, I, 282). And in the Domesday Survey there is no mention of any monastery. Those who took the oath at that time swore that the church of St. Mary, with the lands pertaining to it, had once belonged to Thorney abbey; but the abbot had pledged it to the burghers. It had passed through several pairs of hands since; and now Eustace had it sine liberatore, sine brevi, sine saisitore. Moreover, if there had been a monastery in Huntingdon before the 12th century, it could not have been a priory of Austin canons. On the whole, it seems that there is not evidence of the existence of any monastery before the Conquest. Eustace, however, may quite well have lived long enough to see the introduction of the Augustinian order into England, though his heirs were holding the barony, as the Red Book of the Exchequer shows, before the death of Henry I. It may be added that the charter of Henry III speaks of the ' church of of St. Mary, in which the canons were first founded.' There is no clue to the actual year of foundation.
  • 2. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. I, 79; Cott. MS. Augustus A II, 112.
  • 3. Dugdale, op. cit., II, 79, 80. See also Cott. MS. Faustina C I.
  • 4. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Wells.
  • 5. L. and P. Hen. VIII, V. 1073.
  • 6. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Grosseteste, and ibid. Memo. Dalderby, 84d, show two suits on the subject of tithes; others may be found in Cott. MS. Faustina C I. In 1252 a commission was appointed to inquire between the king and the abbot of Thorney and the prior of Huntingdon as to lands and churches in Huntingdon (Cal. Pat. 1247-58, p. 157).
  • 7. The first suit on this subject was in 1259; there were seven small bridges between Hartford and Godmanchester which the prior had to keep in repair, but it was always under protest. There was another settlement in 1431; but the final concord was in 1486. Fox, Hist. of Godmanchester, 365, where the deed is quoted in full.
  • 8. Close R. 18 Edw. II, m. 14d.; 8 Edw. III, m. 12d.; 12 Edw. III, pt. i, m. 19d. The prior on these three occasions owned debts of £86 13s. 4d., £80 and £80 again. About the same time are recorded several small suits for assaults and aggressions of various kinds; they are so common in the Patent Rolls that it is not worth while to give them in detail.
  • 9. Line. Epis. Reg. Memo. Buckingham, 218.
  • 10. Ibid. Inst. Gynwell, 344.
  • 11. Ibid. Memo. Fleming, 232d.
  • 12. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Grey, 197.
  • 13. Visitations of Alnwick, Alnwick Tower, Lincoln.
  • 14. Gasquet, Hen. VIII and the Eng. Mon., II, 507-8, from Nichols' Accounts of the Priory of Huntingdon. They are dated 1517. Debts were paid off at this time to the value of £422 10s. There is mention also of the outfit of a scholar, showing that one canon was sent, according to the regulations of the order, to the University.
  • 15. L. and P. Hen. VIII, V, 1565.
  • 16. Ibid. V, 1207.
  • 17. Ibid. xii(1), 457.
  • 18. Ibid, xiii (1), 1360.
  • 19. Ibid. VII, 891.
  • 20. Ibid.xiv(1), p. 597.
  • 21. Add. MS. 8102.
  • 22. Red Book of the Exchequer (Rolls Ser.), i, 372.
  • 23. Dugdale, Mon. Angl. VI, 81.
  • 24. Pope Nich. Tax. (Rec. Com.).
  • 25. Valor Eccles. (Rec. Com.), IV, 253-5.
  • 26. Dugdale, op. cit., VI, 82.
  • 27. Cott. MS.Aug.II, 112.
  • 28. Cott. MS. Faustina C I; the witnesses make the charter clearly of the 12th century, but do not supply an exact date.
  • 29. Linc. Epis. Reg. Rolls of Wells.
  • 30. Ibid.
  • 31. Cal of Charter Rolls, I, 350.
  • 32. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Dalderby, 46.
  • 33. Cal. of Papal Letters, I, 605.
  • 34. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Dalderby, 239d.
  • 35. Ibid. Inst. Burghersh, 363.
  • 36. Ibid. Inst. Gynwell, 344.
  • 37. Ibid. Inst. Buckingham, I, 310.
  • 38. Ibid.
  • 39. Ibid. Inst. Beaufort, 163.
  • 40. Ibid. Inst. Fleming, 107d; and in the Alnwick Visitation.
  • 41. Pat. I Edw. IV, pt. 6, m. 35.
  • 42. Linc. Epis. Reg. Memo. Chedworth, 77d.
  • 43. Fox, Hist, of Godmanchester, 365.
  • 44. Add. MS. 5827, fol. 203d (Brown Willis's notes).
  • 45. Ibid. The complete process of the election of Gregory Norwich in the place of Thomas Fort, who was bishop of Achonry, was a few years since in one of the Visitation portfolios in the Alnwick Tower at Lincoln; but the parchments were in so frail a condition that they may have become illegible by now.
  • 46. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Smith, 45d.
  • 47. Ibid. 47d.
  • 48. Ibid.; L. and P. Henry VIII, III (1). 1747.
  • 49. Linc. Epis. Reg. Inst. Longland, 225 d. The resigning prior's name here is given as William Gidding; but in the pension list there is a prior quondam called William Williams. Probably Williams was his name, and Gidding the place he came from. The same would account for the double name of Hugh Oliver.
  • 50. L. and P. Hen. VIII, V, 1207 (43).
  • 51. B.M. Seals, Ixiv, 75, 76; Dugdale, Mon. Angl. II, 79.